Cordoba preserves an important sample of civil architecture of noble origin, from the 15th to the 20th century. These constitute one of the most relevant historical-artistic ensembles of its heritage. There were many noblemen who lived in the old capital of the Caliphate, including the Villaseca family. It is one of the best known residences in Cordoba, declared by Royal Decree on March 27, 1981 as a “Historic-Artistic Monument” of national character, and by another on April 13, 1983 its garden and courtyards were recognized as “Artistic Garden”. Viana offers the possibility of visiting a noble house through the evolution of architectural and decorative styles and environments related to the aristocracy. The evolution of forms and tastes, under the important role played by the power elites throughout history.
History of Viana Palace
On the houses that were owned by Miguel Ruiz in the 16th century, the palace was built by D. Gome de Figueroa y Córdoba, the first lord of Villaseca since 1559, and his son D. Luis Gómez de Córdoba y Figueroa. Its different owners enlarged the house during more than three centuries, and in 1703 they obtained the Marquisate of Villaseca. The last offspring of this lineage, D. Juan Bautista Cabrera y Bernuy, IX Marquis of Villaseca, would die without descendants, and as the old laws of the majorazgos were not in force, his wife, Dña. María del Carmen Pérez de Barradas y Bernuy, was able to bequeath it without any problem. She married in 1873 with D. Teobaldo de Saavedra, who in 1875 received from Alfonso XII the title of first Marquis of Viana. His grandson, would die without descendants in 1980 and his widow would sell the noble residence to the old Monte de Piedad y Caja de Ahorros de Córdoba, later Fundación Caja Sur. Converted into a museum, it is a complex with an irregular layout, arranged around 12 beautiful patios and a garden.
In the first stage (1492 – 1704) the medieval house acquired by the first lord of Villaseca in 1545 was transformed into a Renaissance palace. During this stage, the Recibo and Rejas courtyards were created.
In the second stage (1704 – 1788) the great reforms of the palace take place. With Ana Rafaela Fernández de Mesa y Argote, VI Marquise of Villaseca, the premises were created to house the Historical Archive of Viana, a true jewel of the noble documentation of Spain. Also during this period the Patio de la Madama was remodelled and the Baroque Patio of the Archive was built.
In the third stage (1788 – 1871), the VII Marquis of Villaseca incorporates the houses of the Counts of Torres Cabrera, adjacent to the palace. Its extension is doubled, and incorporates the plots and spaces that today occupy the garden and the Patios of the Pool, the Well, the Gardeners, the Chapel and the Gate. It is the widow of the IX Marquis of Villaseca, Mrs. María del Carmen Pérez de Barradas, who, married in second marriage, receives the Marquisate of Viana. With no descendants, she left her titles and fortunes to her nephew D. José Saavedra.
The first Marquis of Viana, D. José Saavedra, began the fourth stage (1871 – 1980) with the impulse to make the palace a house-museum, worrying about the acquisition of valuable collections of tiles, leather or hunting library. He was to be the museum director of its collections, witnessing documents from the palace’s own archive. He made the set of postcards of the palace and its courtyards in order to spread it, as well as the diffusion of photographs taken in its courtyards. The innovative Marquis died young, passing his inheritance to his son who died without any descendants. His widow sold the palace in 1980, although she is responsible for the decoration of its courtyards with archaeological and decorative objects. She also took charge of moving numerous works of art from her palace in Madrid to the Viana palace.
Before the death of the 3rd Marquis of Viana, attempts to sell the palace did not cease, but it was finally acquired in 1980 by the Caja Provincial de Córdoba. The space was reconditioned and opened to the public in 1981. That same year it was declared a national historic and artistic monument and a historic and artistic garden in 1983.
The main entrance, the main staircase, covered by an interesting Mudejar coffered ceiling, and the Recibo courtyard, 16th-century Mannerist works attributed to Juan de Ochoa, stand out. Inside, equipped with notable rooms, are preserved collections from family heritage, among which are paintings, clocks, tapestries, weapons, furniture and porcelain from Compañía de Indias.
The 12 Courtyards
The Palace of Viana is a living building, which requires constant care, and the fact is that the patios have always been the great protagonists of this building. The visit to the gardens of Viana is fundamental in our visit to Cordoba. Five centuries of history where its growth has been affected by the extensions and reforms of time. A noble house, with numerous families, which has managed to maintain its popular flavour that characterises the people of Cordoba. The Cordovan courtyard, heir to the Roman and Arab tradition, has its maximum historical representation in this palace, with 12 patios inserted in its facilities and a garden. Each of the courtyards has its own personality. One of the most outstanding is the Patio de los Gatos, the oldest in the city. Its plants that live in the palace, in their period of flowering, makes it show a light of its own. All this makes us experience a real ecstasy for all those who love gardening, nature and art. It is normal that in Cordoba the care of its patios are a world reference for its declaration as a Festival of National Tourist Interest and registered as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Its festival, celebrated during the spring, has been showing us in Viana since 2012 a new and renewed way of the heritage reinterpretation that exists in the monument.
Patio de Recibo
This has been the entrance to the palace since the end of the 16th century. It has a trapezoidal floor plan, surrounded by porticoed galleries supported by 16 Tuscan columns and built on two floors. It is interesting to know that the windows are painted in the classic “Viana blue”. The access, from one of the corners, has no columns, thus allowing a better view from the square and giving access to the family’s carriages. In this way, we find attached the stables, usual in the manor houses. In the end, it is a reception courtyard for visitors, the anteroom to the palace.
Patio de los gatos
It may be the oldest, most peculiar and unknown of the city. It has its own history, parallel to the growth and transformation of the palace. This courtyard is part of the houses of the Puentezuela de Tres Caños, acquired by the owners in the 16th century, and maintained as rented housing until the mid-18th century as an administration building and later as a service courtyard. Hence, in this courtyard we can see a well, some washing boards, a salting room made of marble surrounded by geraniums and gitanillas hanging from the walls. It is a patio of medieval origin and with a markedly popular character that has been preserved over the course of history.
Patio of the orange trees
Courtyard that was part of the original nucleus of the palace, and that reminds us of the tradition of the Arab garden-orchard. The garden was a private space for the Muslims, where water and plants were used as the main decorative elements, hence the flower bed and fruit trees are part of this space. The orange trees are what today gives the name to the courtyard, although historically it has received different nomenclatures such as the Patio de los Comedores, Patio de la Fuente, Patio de Beber, or Patio de la Parra.
Patio de las Rejas
This is the only courtyard that looks out over three openings with wrought iron grilles that give it its name, made in 1624. Its striking Mannerist architecture also opens up to the outside, as its owner wished, and is a clear example of how architecture prevails over botany. This display of the family’s power towards the outside has been used by the family for years as a privileged balcony to contemplate public events, for example, the passage of the Virgen de las Angustias on Holy Thursday. This space has undoubtedly been the most pampered by its owners from the beginning, due to its open character. Today, it continues to be an ambassadorial display of the palace’s attractions.
Patio de la Madama
This courtyard is part of the 18th century reform, and it was in the 20th century that its warm and intimate court was incorporated. It is designed to be seen especially from the Admiral’s Bedroom, as the sculpture of its fountain looks out over its doors. It owes its name to the naiad of the fountain, which in Greek mythology were the nymphs of fresh water, this has a neoclassical cut. The fountain, from which coves grow, is surrounded by a circle of cypresses cut into the shape of a crown and planted at the beginning of the 20th century, at the time of the second Marquis of Viana.
Patio de Columnas
This is the last of the reforms to which the palace was subjected, already in the eighties and open to the public. Designed to make the visit more dynamic and to host events that involve greater interaction with visitors. This is a good place to hold events and ceremonies where the Fundación Cajasur presides or collaborates. Its central parterre makes its transit pleasant, especially because of the high temperatures in the city.
Patio de la Alberca
This is one of the most modest patios of this palace, which was annexed to Viana in the 19th century. It is a service courtyard, just like the Cats courtyard, and is also known as the Greenhouse courtyard. It was also known as the courtyard of the Deer, because in this enclosure the stuffed heads of the deer hung from the walls of the monterías (monster houses) that were built on the Cordovan estate of Moratalla. Today its use is for the palace’s gardening equipment, hence its central pool, which aerates and oxygenates the water before it is used to water the palace’s plants. The current pool is quite recent, from the eighties of the last century, after having conditioned its space for public visits.
Patio del Pozo
This courtyard formed a unity with the Patio de la Alberca, until the remodeling in the 19th century. It is another of the service courtyards, in this case, a well is the real protagonist. It takes its waters from the Colodro stream, supplying all the fountains and plants of the palace. In order to give it a more stately air, the III Marquise of Viana added some decorative elements, both vegetable and archaeological objects and decorations in order to ennoble the working area.
Patio de los jardineros
We found in this the room of the tools of the gardening equipment, hence its name. It completes the set of the service courtyards of the Viana palace. Its current appearance is due to the redecoration made by the 3rd Marquise of Viana. The wall covered with celestina or blue jasmine, a real vertical garden, stands out, as well as the archaeological objects and the tile decoration, coming from the estate of Moratalla and the palace of Viana in Madrid. This patio has, among other pieces, fountains, niches, columns, tiles, a church lintel, etc. A tradition, that of adorning the stately courtyards, from the 19th century that accentuated the taste for antiques as a complement and decoration of the courtyards.
Patio de la Cancela
Today it is the current entrance to the visitor’s reception centre of the Palacio de Viana, although in the past it was the entrance to the house of the Counts of Torres Cabrera, acquired by the owners in the 19th century, losing its function as an entrance courtyard. The architecture of this courtyard differs from that of the rest of the courtyards. In this one, the walls are covered with bricks, the floor is inlaid with water, it has archaeological objects and the old watering place is now a decorative pillar. We can also observe how balconies with beautiful works of form and wooden frames painted with the “Viana blue” appear, forming of the space a showy set. Its name is inherited from the great iron gate that closes its only wall open to the outside.
Patio de la Capilla
This was the main courtyard of the houses of the Counts of Torres Cabrera in the 17th century, named after the chapel attached to the courtyard, which was moved by the 3rd Marquise of Viana to the current reception. Although today its original location has been recovered. It has a small archaeological museum because of the quantity and quality of its pieces. The tall orange trees and the harmony of its composition favour the calm and introspection of the space.
Patio del Archivo
This is the most interior of all the courtyards, and a sober example of Cordoba’s Baroque, which was remodelled in the 18th century. On the mezzanine floor is the family’s valuable historical archive, with over 400,000 documents, one of Viana’s greatest treasures. When Cajasur bought the palace in 1980, the archive was not purchased, as it was off the market, which meant that it was guarded by the palace but without public or research access, until 2000 when Cajasur was able to acquire it, thus beginning a new phase of detailed study. The blue set of doors and windows is striking, and especially the central fountain with its ceramic canvas.
Curiosities about Viana Palace
The main doorway, dated in the 16th century, shows the coat of arms of Viana, but it is curious how this was not the heraldry that the noble residence must have had at its foundation. In its archives, documents have appeared from 1921 which reflect the contract of the II Marquis of Viana to modify the previous coat of arms of the Fernández de Córdoba family, with three horizontal bands, for that of the Marquis of Viana, of the Saavedra lineage, which are three horizontal chess bands. This is considered to be a historical and heraldic deception, since it tricks the spectator into believing what was not.
We must point out in this section, how in the construction of the Patio de Recibo, two of its porticos masked parts of the house that were not connected to the palace or, of houses that they did not own.
In 1925, one of the trips of the II Marquis of Viana to the French capital, brought to the patios and garden the fashion of incorporating the plants in jars. Since then the fashion has been seen in many courtyards of the capital of Cordoba. The Marquis informed his administrator in writing in which he noted that “he has the novelty that to place the plants they use old jars of a size of one meter or meter and a half of height”, ordering the immediate continued use of fashion.
Schedule to visit Viana Palace
The palace of Viana, its patios and garden has a schedule adapted to the climate of the area, so we will have to take into account the season in which we are. In summer, including the months of July and August the schedule is from 09.00 to 15.00 hours from Tuesday to Sunday. The winter timetable is from 10.00 to 19.00 hours from Tuesday to Saturday, and on Sundays from 10.00 to 15.00 hours. Mondays will be closed in both seasons, and holidays will have a special schedule that must be consulted.
Prices to visit Palacio de Viana
The general entrance fee to the palace and its courtyards is 8 euros, although you can also buy the entrance to the courtyards for 5 euros. Inside the palace we can purchase tickets to the premises with visits commented by professional members. These visits cost 10 euros for the combined visits and 6 euros for the collection of courtyards. On Wednesdays, with your general ticket and from 14.00 to 17.00 hours, free visits will be made, although the palace has a limited capacity.
There are reductions on tickets, this is the case of small groups upon request, with a price of 5 euros for the general ticket and 3 euros for the courtyards.
Holders of the Junta 65 gold and green cards, children under 10 years of age and the disabled have access free of charge.
How to get to Viana Palace
We recommend the use of public transport, since access to the city area due to changes in the restructuring of traffic in the central area, the bus lines that take us are: 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 13, N and E. The palace is located in Don Gome Square, number 2, if we walk and depart from the Town Hall, we can go down San Pablo Street to the height of San Andrés Church, where a perpendicular street leads us to Viana Palace.